If you’re reading this page, chances are you’ve never kept score at a ballgame. Maybe you preferred to have your hands free for a hot dog and a beer. Or maybe you didn’t realize what you were missing.
Keeping score focuses all your attention on the game and provides more insight than just watching casually. It slows the action so that you can watch each play and enables you to take the pulse of the game, appreciate its subtleties, and sometimes even predict its outcome. What’s more, it can be as easy or as complex as you want it to be.
The scoring system fans and sportswriters use today was invented by Henry Chadwick in the 1850s, building upon the earlier scoring technique of New York sportswriter M. J. Kelly. Chadwick, one of the first to write about baseball in the newspapers, created a minutely detailed scorecard so he would have a point of reference and recollection when he wrote his articles about the game. He also invented the modern boxscore.
Chadwick assigned a letter or letters to each play that could take place on the field, usually the first or last letters of the word that described the play. Then, he assigned a number, from 1 to 9?to each of the players on the field, according to his defensive position. By combining letters and numbers, he could record what happened in a particular at bat and, if an out were made, which defensive players made the play.
Little has changed in scoring since Chadwick’s day, except for the way some of the letters and numbers are assigned. Here’s how we do it today.
1B Single 2B Double 3B Triple HR Home Run BB Walk (Base on Balls); IBB-intentional walk FC Fielder’s Choice SB Stolen Base CS Caught Stealing WP Wild Pitch PB Passed Ball FO Foul Out SAC Sacrifice HBP Hit by Pitch K Strikeout backwards K-Strikeout, looking
Why a K for a strikeout? Chadwick needed S for sacrifice, so he decided to go with K, the last letter in the word “struck,” then a common term for striking out. This is the way we number the defensive players:
1 Pitcher; 2 Catcher; 3 First Baseman; 4 Second Baseman; 5 Third Baseman; 6 Shortstop; 7 Left Fielder; 8 Center Fielder; 9 Right Fielder;
Shortstop is number 6, instead of number 5, because in the early days of the game, shortstop was still evolving as a position, and the player in that spot was considered more of a shallow outfielder than an infielder.
To save space, some plays are described simply with numbers. For a flyout, we just record the code number of the fielder who made the catch. For an unassisted groundout, we write the number of the infielder, followed by a period. For an assisted groundout, we would use the numbers of the two fielders handling the ball.
Now, imagine that each box on your scorecard is a miniature baseball diamond, with first base in the lower right corner, second base in the upper right corner, third base in the top left and home plate in the bottom left. If a batter reaches first, divide the box into quarters. This allows you to record the batter’s progress in the square as he moves around the bases.
Here are two fictional innings to illustrate how this all comes together on a sample scorecard (see window). Leading off for the All-Time All-Stars is left fielder Ty Cobb, who singles and steals second. The next batter, second baseman Rogers Hornsby, bounces a grounder to second and Cobb takes third. We mark a number 2 in the third base quadrant of Cobb’s box to indicate that the No. 2 batter advanced him there. The next batter, Babe Ruth, hits a home run. We note that, plus a 3 in the home plate quadrant of Cobb’s box to show how he scored. Batting fourth, Lou Gehrig flies out to center field.
Center fielder Tris Speaker walks and takes second on a passed ball. Honus Wagner doubles, but is thrown out by the leftfielder when he tries to stretch it into a triple. Speaker, however, advances to third and then scores before the third out is made. In the box below the inning boxes, we note the number of runs and hits made in that half- inning: two runs above the diagonal line, three hits below.
In the second inning, catcher Bill Dickey singles but is erased when third baseman Pie Traynor grounds into a shortstop-to-second-to-first double play, shown by the 6-4 in Dickey’s second-base quadrant. Pitcher Cy Young strikes out to end the inning. The totals: 0 runs, 1 hit.
It can be that simple. But it doesn’t have to be. Scoring also has its creative side. Any scoring code is just a guideline; you can make up your own system to record whatever you’re interested in tracking. For example, some scorers record base hits in shorthand: dashes or dots, one for each base. You can also embellish your scoring with other details of the game that you find interesting or would be fun to keep track of and think about later. The extra boxes at the end of the scoresheet (for at bats, runs, etc.) can come in handy if you need to branch out. You can, for example, record the count on each batter, or whether the pitcher was ahead or behind on a batter when the ball was put into play. That way you can tell how efficiently a pitcher is working in a game, and how he might fare in the later innings. If you have a good seat, or you’re watching on television, you can also keep track of what pitch a pitcher uses to record outs and what pitches result in hits. You can record where fly balls are caught; if many batters are reaching the warning track, you know you have a lucky pitcher out there. Or, you can note where hits are made, to learn the patterns in which certain hitters perform.
Use your imagination. Keeping score enables you to study a game with as much concentration as a manager or coach in the dugout and to gain a feel for the underlying current of the game. And you can still have a hot dog and a beer. Like everything else in baseball, all you need is a sharp eye, a good pair of hands, and practice.